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Quips, queries, and querulous quibbles from the quirky mind of Don Kahle

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Scenario Straddling: Worst Case

November 22nd, 2020 by dk

To get into the winter holiday spirit, let’s play a game. It requires nothing but imagination. It’s called “Scenario Straddling.” Imagine a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. What happens will almost certainly fall somewhere between.

I will fill this space twice — once half full, once half empty. I will leave it to the editors to choose which appears in print, requesting that they post the other online. Here’s a very quick summary of my scenarios for the presidential race outcome.

BEST: Biden’s habits and gifts of magnanimity makes him the most effective legislating president since LBJ. WORST: Trump creates the American carnage he envisioned and frightened Americans give him four more years to fix it.

WORST: Donald Trump’s 2017 “American Carnage” inauguration speech turned out to have been more a promise than a warning. Experts believed that an exploding pandemic would kill his political fortunes, In the end, it’s what saved him, along with a little delayed assistance from the Russians.

Lawsuits over vote-counting were never serious legal challenges. Their only goal was to plant a seed of doubt in enough Americans to create an opening for what came next. The lesson learned in 2000 was repeated. Knowing the outcome of the vote was the obstacle. Making the results seem unknowable was the goal.

Faithless electors were prepared, requiring only that an insufficient number of state-certified vote tallies reach Congress by December 8’s required “safe harbor” deadline. Along with doubt and fear, a few states would suffice. Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia, each controlled by Republican state legislatures, would be enough.

Americans didn’t pay much attention to a few government bureaucrats missing a mandated deadline. What else is new? Besides, most people were busy defending themselves against COVID-19 and the havoc it wreaked. The chaos of Corona was more feature than bug for this not-yet-outgoing administration.

The fuse was long, but striking the match was quick. President Trump bombed Iran, showing world leaders that sabers are not just for rattling. Iran promised retaliation. Then it came.

America’s power grid came down and Internet connectivity was severely damaged. Everyone blamed Iran for this, but we learned much later that the Russians were responsible. We should have worried when Russians didn’t seriously meddle with this election. We should have noticed the dog that didn’t bark.

So-called “sanctuary cities” were hit particularly hard, but also hospitals and banks. Americans reacted swiftly and strongly to the pain of confusion. People panicked. They assumed the worst.

The worst didn’t need much assuming. Economic assistance programs from the spring came to a screeching halt on Dec. 31 — unemployment benefits, payroll assistance, eviction forbearance, student loan suspension. People took to the streets, but only landlords boarded their windows because tenants had left or were leaving.

Trump strode back onto the national stage. His promise from 2017 echoed: “I alone can fix it.” Obama’s “hope and change” mantra had finally been replaced with fear and dread. America needed a strongman. Trump accepted his calling. Democrats stepped aside, for the good of the nation.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Scenario Straddling: Best Case

November 22nd, 2020 by dk

To get into the winter holiday spirit, let’s play a game. It requires nothing but imagination. It’s called “Scenario Straddling.” Imagine a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario. What happens will almost certainly fall somewhere between.

I will fill this space twice — once half full, once half empty. I will leave it to the editors to choose which appears in print, requesting that they post the other online. Here’s a very quick summary of my scenarios for the presidential race outcome.

BEST: Biden’s habits and gifts of magnanimity makes him the most effective legislating president since LBJ. WORST: Trump creates the American carnage he envisioned and frightened Americans give him four more years to fix it.

BEST: Even before Joseph Biden became our 46th president, it became clear that the Georgia Senate runoffs wouldn’t matter as much as everyone thought. Democrats focused on unseating Sen. Kelly Loeffler and won, shepherded by incoming Secretary of State Stacey Abrams. Sen. David Purdue survived to live another day, without much reason to look forward to it.

Sen. Mitch McConnell retained his majority, but found he couldn’t do much with it. Biden has too many Republican friends in the Senate after 36 years, and VP Kamala Harris knows those he doesn’t. McConnell plays whack-a-mole defense, as Biden peels off one or two Senators to co-sponsor each piece of valuable legislation.

Magnanimity was always how things got done in Washington. We thought the back-slapping had given way to back-stabbing. What we quickly learned is that we haven’t had a truly magnanimous president since George H.W. Bush. Biden offers a night in the Lincoln bedroom, not for Clinton-style financial favors, but for political favors, like LBJ.

Biden’s long history of working with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi makes things a bit easier, but her majority is thin and her caucus is fractured. Too many Democrats are already worried about reelection, but Biden knows the game. He visits members of Congress in their offices on Independence Avenue — taking selfies, raising funds and profiles.

Leaving nothing to chance, Biden carved himself a backchannel past Pelosi and directly to the House’s Black Caucus. Louisiana Rep. Cedric Richmond came into the White House as a senior adviser focused on public engagement. “You dance with them that brung ya,” and Biden’s learned some new steps from his many non-white staffers.

Even the conservative justices on the Supreme Court have been impressed. Biden reaches across the aisle even when there’s no visible aisle. Dana Remus became White House counsel. She clerked for conservative stalwart Justice Samuel Alito in 2008. She never burned that bridge. Now her boss in the Oval Office can now walk across it.

Dignity and affability are not opposed when you’re the leader of the free world. Biden admits his missteps with grace and alacrity.

America’s standing is rising again, but this time without a shred of narcissism — borne of youth or family trauma — at the top. Americans haven’t had a deeply self-assured leader since Reagan. Many are surprised how much they’ve missed it.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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DIY Reparations Plan: Pay It Sideways

November 12th, 2020 by dk

Comedian Dave Chappelle has come up with a plan for reparations that doesn’t require anything from the government. It fits nicely with Eugene Mayor Lucy Vinis’s vision for Eugene to become a City of Kindness.

Chappelle calls his plan “the kindness conspiracy — random acts of kindness for Black people.” Each of us can resolve to give Black people something better than they deserve. Not despite — but precisely because — they don’t deserve it.

Granted, targeting your kindness makes those acts slightly less random, but don’t get hung up on the details. You don’t need to know their family history or whether their ancestors were enslaved. Systemic racism is happening now. If their skin is darker than yours, chances are they’ve had fewer advantages.

We can do more than call this out. We can correct it.

“Randomness” matters less than “undeserving.” Chappelle: “That’s a very important part of it — they can’t deserve it. The same way all them years, terrible things happened to Black people, just because they’re Black (pause) and they didn’t deserve it.”

For years we’ve been having a national debate about reparations. It took a stand-up comedian to show that we don’t need government to right this wrong. We can take matters into our own hands. We can infuse our system with grace. We can model abundance and generosity to one another …

I’m interrupting that sentence to insert a short story about my first Oregon Country Fair visit. I was in line for Springfield Creamery ice cream. The guy ahead of me ordered an ice cream, but he really wanted strawberries on top. He was 35 cents short, so he just asked if anyone had 35 cents, so he could have strawberries. Yes. That’s what abundance and generosity look like.

… but also justice. Any government reparations program will necessarily excuse those of us who have had extra privileges from correcting things with our own hands. The world is not fair, but that doesn’t prevent us from correcting it.

This week we celebrated Veterans Day. Over the past decades have we taught ourselves to say, “Thank you for your service” to veterans we meet. It gave us something to say — an active acknowledgement — when they boarded the plane first or received a special store discount.

You’ve heard of “pay it back” and “pay it forward.” DIY reparations is “pay it sideways,” extending an advantage to those who have received fewer. It’s anti-racism in action.

Chappelle completed his explanation on SNL this way. “If you’re driving through the ‘hood one day and you see a Black dude, standin’ on the corner, sellin’ crack and destroying his community (pause), buy him an ice cream. He’ll be suspicious, but he’ll take it.” Chappelle then mimed a smile-scowl, warily licking the microphone-cum-ice cream cone.

If this kindness conspiracy grows into a movement, we’ll need to be given something to say. Eugene artisan Joe Valasek suggests: “Got your back.” The phrase is quick and it mirrors the traditional African flag colors: green, yellow, black.

We can make the world more generous and just, without a government program.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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How You Can Sway Georgia’s Senate Runoffs

November 12th, 2020 by dk

It took more than a week to have confirmed what looked likely soon after the election. Republicans will maintain control of the U.S. Senate, unless Democrats can somehow win two runoff elections in Georgia on Jan. 5, 2021.

Democrats had their eye on unseating David Perdue during this cycle. When Johnny Isakson stepped down a year ago, Georgia governor Brian Kemp appointed Kelly Loeffler to fill his seat on an interim basis, setting up a Georgia twofer. Georgia law requires a runoff when no candidate wins the majority of votes in November. Perdue faces Jon Ossoff again and Loeffler will be challenged by Rev. Raphael Warnock.

How Washington operates for the next two years has everything to do with the outcome of those two races. If Democrats are unable to capture both, Joe Biden will be the first Democrat to enter the White House without his party fully controlling Congress since Grover Cleveland in 1885.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell famously told a think tank audience in 2010 that his first goal as leader was to make Barack Obama a one-term president. He had only two years to try to accomplish that. If either Perdue or Loeffler successfully defends their Senate seat in January, McConnell may have four years to obstruct Biden’s agenda.

Emboldened by Republicans’ unexpectedly strong showings last week, some wonder whether McConnell will allow any federal judges to be confirmed for the next two years. Refusing to hold hearings on Merrick Garland and then rushing Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court bench did not seem to bother McConnell’s supporters at all.

Over a thousand executive branch appointments require the Senate’s consent. McConnell and a Republican majority could leave every one of those seats vacant, forcing Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi to take desperate measures. The uglier it gets, the better Republicans’ prospects may be in 2022 and 2024.

What can you do to prevent this outcome? Hope is not a plan. If Michael Bloomberg has taught us anything, it’s that sending money won’t work. Phone banking can now be done from anywhere, but if you don’t have a southern twang, Georgia residents won’t want to hear from you.

Do you really, really want to sway these runoff elections? Move. Move to Georgia.

Anyone with a permanent Georgia address and a Georgia drivers license by Dec. 7 can register to vote in the January election. Early voting begins Dec. 14. Absentee ballots can be requested next week, in case you’ve already made holiday plans.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting you pretend to move to Georgia, just so you can vote. That would be fraud and it would be illegal. That said, there’s nothing to prevent you from changing your mind later and moving back. When Donald Trump moved his official residence to Florida, he didn’t have to sell his New York penthouse. You can always come back if you don’t like it there.

If you’re retired, or unemployed, or teleworking, consider whether the Peach State is calling you. I’ve heard Savannah is lovely in winter.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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An Exhaustive/Exhausting List of 2020 Fripperies

November 7th, 2020 by dk

Fifth Friday footnotes, follow-ups and far-flung fripperies:

  • An occasional “slipper day” can be nice. “Slipper months” — not so much.
  • My friend made this observation: “Some states are just too dense to avoid COVID-19, especially the sparsely populated ones.”
  • If President Trump offered to sell off the postal service, who would outbid Amazon’s Jeff Bezos?
  • You know anxiety is in the air when you worry that your croutons may be getting stale.
  • People have stopped using their voices. I think I understand why. When the TV’s on, why interrupt people who are more articulate and handsome?
  • Overeating is more fun than eating.
  • A friend asked me to go to a protest in his place. I was a stand-in at a sit-in.
  • We overvalue excellence and efficiency. We undervalue inclusion and authenticity.
  • Why hasn’t anyone designed earbuds that double as earrings?
  • Reading fiction builds empathy.
  • Courage first requires admitting how long things take.
  • If five guys walk into a Five Guys, do they get a secret discount on their burgers? They should.
  • Make a recipe immediately after it intrigues you, or you probably never will.
  • How often is conformity mistaken for excellence?
  • Thanks, Maureen Dowd, for this one: “isolationship.”
  • During difficult times, the people will always raise their vices.
  • Let bygones be bygones, but not while they’re still bygoing.
  • Self-sufficiency was never more than half true.
  • You go to the kitchen not with the pasta you want. You go with the pasta you have.
  • Are you getting tired of looking at bookcases behind talking heads, showing us how smart they are?
  • Watching a movie, set in San Francisco, I wondered why no tech billionaires except Marc Benioff have built prominent skyscrapers. Every wide shot of the city’s skyline reminded me of his company, Salesforce.
  • The greater good is both.
  • Would things be better or worse if the invading virus had infected every computer chip instead, shutting down all machine communications?
  • Our systems force shock or stasis. All defenses align against incremental change.
  • Introverts were social distancing before social distancing was cool.
  • I wish I could reprogram my smoke alarm, replacing its “Fire!” alert with “Mmm. Fried food! Maybe a little overdone … but still, yum!”
  • We’ve been testing fate for years, so why are we surprised when there’s suddenly a shortage of testing kits?
  • America to Coronavirus: “Take my life and liberty, but not my pursuit of happiness.”
  • With infections and unemployment skyrocketing, government should just ban skyrockets. Problem solved. You’re welcome.
  • Do people fret anymore? (Maybe that’s the problem.)
  • I don’t remember the question, but the answer is thicker socks.
  • Americans don’t question authority as much as they think they do. Those annoying “Do Not Remove” tags on pillows and upholstery? That warning was for retailers, not for you.
  • Popcorn is not a crummy snack. No crumbs.
  • Two activities we prefer to describe in the passive voice: haircuts and marriages. Make of this what you will.
  • Once chocolate cake was invented, how did any other desserts survive?
  • When it’s walls versus barbarians, history doesn’t favor walls.
  • How much middle of a toothpick is absolutely necessary?
  • I miss precedented times, when we were in charted territory.
  • Are you a literalist or a lateralist? Do you prefer things to be straight ahead or does sideways motion interest you more?
  • Who has the last remaining kitchen appliance colored either avocado, harvest gold or burnt umber?
  • Multi-tasking is overrated. It keeps most from actually tasking.
  • I marvel at the elegant engineering of a weed-whacker. The name is clumsier than the machine.
  • For long-time residents, the Black Lives Matter protests started off confusing. When we protested against clearcuts, BLM stood for the bad guys — Bureau of Land Management.
  • What are the French trying to tell us? Their word for Warning is “Avertissement.”
  • I hate it when I’m a day late to an avocado.
  • I haven’t set my phone’s ringer on vibrate for seven months. So there’s that.
  • “All Lives Matter” is the goal. “Black Lives Matter” is the next step toward that goal.
  • Let bygones be bygones, but not while they’re still bygoing.
  • The insufferable seem to know everything except that they are.
  • Who teaches tech support to add “for me” to every directive? And to begin some instructions with “Let’s go ahead and ….” ?
  • Arranged marriages are back! In place of parents and tribal elders, we now entrust our familial future to dating site algorithms.
  • How many disposable masks have you not disposed?
  • Have the designers and practitioners of hospice care ever received a Nobel Prize? If not, why not?
  • If you insist on things being black or white, you won’t have much use for gray matter.
  • Is there anything that doesn’t sound better to many people when the prefix “eco-” is added?
  • I feel poor only when I have no leftovers in the fridge.
  • What is Division Street dividing?
  • When we separated algebra from geometry, we divided truth and beauty. Bad move. Elegant solutions must seek both.
  • Now is the time to articulate a better future — before it’s too late.
  • I think the Coronavirus will end up having less impact on us than our stubborn belief that it will have none.
  • Twelve minutes, in and out of Costco, parking included, on the weekend. Where’s my medal?
  • Being a disaster victim during a time of universal tumult is like having your birthday on Dec. 24. Hardly anyone seems to notice.
  • With several months of practice, we’re all learning to recognize the distinctive squints that accompany smiles hidden behind masks.
  • Who knew how much we all relied so much on lip-reading?
  • I’m not the only one wondering how wearing face masks will change the shape of our ears.
  • Rebuilding Blue River: If the people don’t come back, the people won’t come back.
  • Grocery Outlet is the poor man’s Trader Joe’s. Can I get a witness?
  • I don’t always know when I’m right. But I usually know when I’m done.
  • What is the plural of ottoman?
  • I just now got the word play behind Head & Shoulders shampoo.
  • Gone are the days of reckless abandon. Welcome to the days of abandoned wrecks.
  • Why does curry pizza not exist?
  • What happens when the desperate outnumber the poor?
  • Something tells me that work-from-home orders and legalized marijuana are a bad mix.
  • We have “squish” and “quash,” so do we really need “squash”?
  • I’m sorry, but  I don’t have any pans that need handling.
  • I’m worried that Clarence Thomas might announce his retirement after Election Day, leaving McConnell time before inauguration to replace him on the Supreme Court with a 12-year-old conservative.
  • Intentions inhabit your future self.
  • On the topic of pets, do you prefer catalysts or dogma — change or lack?
  • Have you missed fripperies? They’ve missed you.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Rebuilding Blue River Begins With You

November 6th, 2020 by dk

Everybody who loves Blue River has their own moment when they realized it. For some, it was buying night crawlers and Cheetos in the same store. Or Christmas lights anonymously strung across the downtown bridge. Or the public basketball hoop, complete with a basketball, waiting for a user. Or the tavern that kept the misspelling on its branded T-shirts because the owner thought it was funny.

Neighbors swap these stories — so many stories! They keep its quirky culture alive and constantly growing. My moment was walking into the Frances O’Brien Memorial Library on a Saturday afternoon and meeting Sybil Fillman. At 94 years old, she was still living on her own and volunteering every weekend at the library.

She and others told me stories how the library came to be. For most of its history, the library was open 24 hours. The door was never locked, because what would be the point? To keep people from taking books? That was the point.

Rebuilding the McKenzie River Valley can and will occur in myriad ways, but rebuilding that library is where I would begin. I’m happy to report those efforts are already underway.

The building itself and all its contents were incinerated two months ago. Its leaders have already determined that its replacement will be relocated. A new building will require a larger lot for current and future needs. The books will be replaced, of course, in due time. Support from across the state has been encouraging.

Lane Library League jumped to the rescue immediately, setting up and promoting an online fundraiser. (See link below.) Library supporters have already given $2,410 to begin the rebuilding campaign, including $1,000 from the Lane Library League directly. Their board of directors, led by president and local author Bill Sullivan, didn’t hesitate.

Friends of the Eugene Public Library has tentatively offered to restock the library’s shelves, as soon as there are shelves to be restocked. In many ways, Friends appears grateful for the opportunity to help. COVID-19 has prevented its annual book sale, but book donations haven’t slowed. No friend of libraries wants to see books stored instead of read.

It doesn’t end there. Willa Bauman, Anya Dobrowolski, Eugene Toolbox Project, and others have expressed interest in adding tools to what residents can borrow from their Blue River library. Rebuilding Blue River will be a hands-on affair for many do-it-yourselfers. Access to tools will be as important as access to books.

Matt Sayre and other volunteers from Oregon Internet Response have already begun work to bring more robust Internet access to the area. The future library may become a community hub for those who need to stay connected — with their neighbors, but also with the outside world.

The Lane County Board of Commissioners is busy looking for ways to streamline the rebuilding process across the devastated region. The effort has to start somewhere. Libraries are many things to many people, but they are most often a starting point.

To donate to the Blue River Library rebuilding campaign, go to


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Explaining Our Evenly Divided Selves

November 5th, 2020 by dk

America is evenly divided and has been for at least 100 years. Time after time, national elections have reflected a split that has always been close to 50/50. Understanding this chasm was never very important before. Although the people of America have been evenly divided for a long time, they only recently became deeply divided.

Political leaders have displayed a bitterness in this separation for a while. The last 40 years have seen the erosion of collegiality and compromise on Capitol Hill, but it didn’t affect how regular Americans lived their lives.

That bitterness is now reaching the kitchen tables of America. Deeply held convictions that accepted no middle ground was always reserved for sports rivalries. Politics was hushed in polite company. That has changed over the past decade or so, leaving us no safe harbors.

We must now face and try to understand how half of us see the world so differently than the other half. A few theories have been offered over the years. I’ll add one more.

If you look at a nationwide map of vote majorities by county, you’ll see a nation that looks mostly red. The occasional blue spots point to cities. The red map shows an America that is conservative almost everywhere — except where people live. There’s a clear divide between rural and urban Americas. People with enough room want less government.

Others have suggested that the division is primarily generational. Young people often greet the world as liberals, but then grow more conservative with age. As a conservative friend once quipped, “A conservative is just a liberal whose gotten mugged.” The school of hard knocks teaches many of us conservative values over time.

A third theory is that America was built on two ideals, not one, and that they are in constant tension. “All people are created equal” is the foundation of democracy. But capitalism — our other core conviction — believes that everyone competes everyday to exceed their peers. Democracy makes us all equal. Capitalism makes us each distinct.

I’m seeing a different explanation emerge, but I have to warn readers that I will be abandoning the polite company rule to explain it. The next paragraph will make my liberal friends very happy. The paragraph that follows it will make them very upset.

One side loves science. They believe in truth. They catalog ever misrepresentation by leading politicians, counting the times they run afoul of the truth. Truthfulness is literally equated with moral character and ethical behavior. Every inconsistency reveals ineptitude or indecency. Those who abide immoralities are therefore immoral.

The other side puts primacy on something else. They choose beauty. They follow what looks right or sounds right, even if it doesn’t turn out to BE right. That doesn’t make them wrong. Or it does make them wrong, but it doesn’t make them bad. Being right on everything can sometimes make you ugly. Who wants that?

Truth and beauty. Each embodies a value that is necessary but not sufficient. We need both algebra and geometry to understand the world. Now we need both to understand each other.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Flagging Patriotic Solutions

November 5th, 2020 by dk

If you’re a liberal living among other liberals, what actions can you take to help the nation reach a better place? Your vote probably won’t make any difference, because a landslide doesn’t make the winner any winnier. You should still vote,  if only to keep up the habit, but it’s a little like brushing your teeth before your dentist appointment. It’s not likely to make any immediate change, but it’s still the right thing to do.

You could volunteer to place door-hangers in neighborhoods that you otherwise wouldn’t have known existed. (I buy things on craigslist for this purpose. I constantly discover diversity is closer than I thought.) If walking among strangers is not your thing, try just hanging out near the gun sales counter at Bi-Mart or any sporting goods store. You’ll hear things you don’t normally hear.

Phone banking is another option. Technology can connect volunteers with campaigns in vulnerable swing states or swing districts. This is an especially good fit for those who have moved away, but still retain a distinctive accent. Undecided voters in battleground states don’t welcome calls from people who don’t sound like they live down the block.

Giving money is the go-to option for many people who consider themselves activists, but don’t know where or how they can be active. Money might sway an election, somewhere, somehow. Your donation to some far-away campaign could tip the balance — that’s certainly what they will tell you — but it’s getting hard to find a competitive campaign that isn’t already flush with cash and freely outspending their conservative opponent.

With so few undecided voters in an ever more polarized political landscape, it seems like there are no good options available to a good-hearted liberal who wants to genuinely “make America better again,” if not actually great. The voting will soon be over, even if the election itself drags on for weeks or months.

I recommend instead that you look beyond the election. We’ve certainly seen enough already to know that our nation will need some TLC after this campaign is completely over. Here are two ideas for you.

Two San Francisco women started a movement that has taken hold in larger cities, but hasn’t hit Eugene yet. They pair willing hosts with interested strangers to share a meal and conversation together. It’s called “Make America Dinner Again.” Their website is worth a visit, but the concept is simple enough.

Adapting the “conversation with strangers” concept to current COVID-19 restrictions might take some work, but it’s a worthy venture. However we come back together, civil conversation will be required.

Here’s an idea that doesn’t require talking to strangers. Go down to your corner store and buy an American flag. Buy some Stars & Stripes decals for your car and living room windows. I haven’t checked, but Hirons probably sells flag buttons that you can wear. They go with everything.

We need liberals who are willing to fly Old Glory. We can’t allow one side of the political spectrum to claim our flag as their own. That’s not good for anyone. 


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Memorable Debate Lines Reverberate 40 Years Later

November 5th, 2020 by dk

Presidential races reflect and then shape our national consciousness. They provide inflection points, grafting a new future onto a familiar past. John Kennedy portrayed and empowered a nation feeling youthful and vigorous. Jimmy Carter scrubbed us clean after Nixon and Watergate.

Debates often encapsulate trends into memorable moments. I’m writing this week too soon to describe whatever moments might prove most memorable from this year’s cycle of debates (though it will be hard to outdo the fly on Pence’s hair). Instead, let me take you back 40 years. Let’s review how those inflection points brought us here.

The only debate between  Carter and Ronald Reagan occurred on Tuesday, October 28, 1980. It was exactly a week before Election Day. It attracted more viewers than any presidential debate in history.

A trajectory was set by two rehearsed retorts delivered that evening. If you’re over 50, you may still remember them.

Not surprisingly, Carter’s zinger was the more long-winded of the two. Reagan had been asked about his supply-side economic policies. Reagan surprised many when he described with crisp detail how economic expansion would allow him to keep his promises to cut taxes, increase military spending, and balance the budget.

Carter was ready. “I’ve had to make thousands of decisions since I’ve been President,” he began. “I’ve learned that there are no simple answers to complicated questions. H. L. Mencken said that for every problem there’s a simple answer. It would be neat and plausible and wrong.”

Never mind that Carter misattributed the quote that originated with George Bernard Shaw. Carter’s retort has made Democrats wary of simple solutions ever since. Democrats have long considered themselves smart, well-prepared, nuanced, comfortable with complexity, and — frankly — a little bit boring.

Carter’s quip disparaged the alternative. Even when there is a simple solution to a complicated problem, liberals have not allowed themselves to see it.

Reagan’s most memorable line that evening was only four words, delivered sotto voce. Carter was discussing Medicare’s success in Reagan’s home state of California. For good measure, Carter reeled off the names of the only five nations whose economies were larger than California’s.

Feigning exasperation, Reagan muttered under his breath, “There you go again.” Reagan’s message to viewers was that being smart and prepared and informed was the same as being elitist.

Voters were offered something more than a choice between two leaders that night. One side detailed complexities that all of us recognize but few can understand. The other side shrugged its shoulders, insisting that none of the nuance was worth the bother.

Does any of that sound familiar?

Americans are not looking for answers to be spelled out for them. The flood of information is not only available, it’s become inescapable. We can’t keep up. We want to make it stop. It’s not that our intellectual engines won’t run; it’s that we can’t find a place to park.

Who wants to wrestle with climate change, economic injustice, racial reckonings, and a rampaging pandemic? Wouldn’t it be easier to pretend that none of those struggles are real or necessary or relevant to our lives?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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Ten Reasons to Vote

October 26th, 2020 by dk

If you’re a registered voter in Oregon, you received the Voters’ Pamphlet last week. (At 168 pages, can we really call it a “pamphlet?”) Ballots will arrive this week. The question asked too often is this: “Why should I bother to vote, when Oregon’s electoral votes will not be in dispute?”

Let me give you ten reasons that you should bother to vote.

1. It’s a mercifully small bother. Other Americans will stand in line for hours to vote. Our hassle will be finding a blue or black pen in our kitchen junk drawer. It’s worth taking a few minutes to vote, if only to reflect on how good we’ve got it.

2. It’s a good habit. Skipping this election because your actions won’t alter the outcome is like not brushing your teeth on the day before your dentist appointment. It won’t change the immediate consequence, but the habit will.

3. There’s more on the ballot. Oregon pioneered the voter initiative more than a century ago. Oregonians make some government decisions directly. We should take that responsibility seriously. You may have no opinion yet about psilocybin. You may not even know how to pronounce it. Now is a good time to learn.

4. We’re the Vote-By-Mail poster child. Citizens and lawmakers in other states watch us and wonder whether they should follow our lead. Showing that Vote-By-Mail is easy and fraud-free is an important message conveyed by our collective actions.

5. Our turnout rate should make us proud. Very few states see a larger percentage of its eligible citizens voting. They say that if you don’t vote, then you can’t complain. We complain a lot in Oregon. Voting is important to our state’s culture.

6. And that’s not because we reserve voting for the highly motivated. No other state makes it easier to get registered to vote. Since 2016, most new residents have had to worker harder to NOT be registered to vote. Unless they specifically opt-out, they are registered to vote when they get their driver’s license.

7. Down-ballot races also matter. Even if the presidential race will not be contested in 2020, candidates for other races will be on the ballot. Each name you see printed on the ballot is watching what you’ll do — even the uncontested races. Judges pay attention to their “undervote” (the number of returned ballots who left their race blank).

8. Our voter turnout is tracked earlier than others’. Since we’ve perfected our method of voting and our history is robust, our Secretary of State announces daily how the turnout so far compares with past elections. Unlike polling results, our numbers are real and beyond dispute.

9. Oregon could play a role in a “Centrist Tsunami.” If others around the country learn that Oregonians are voting in huge numbers, they may follow. Strong turnout in swing districts will bring more centrists (from both parties) into the national government. We need that.

10. Fill in the blank. You’ve probably noticed some reason that I’ve overlooked. Fill it here and share it with me.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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